PEOPLES AND CULTURES OF THE WORLD
The Great Courses
Edward F. Fischer, Ph.D., Professor of Anthropology, and Director of the Center for Latin American Studies, Vanderbilt University
Why is anthropology such an inherently fascinating subject? Because it's all about us: human beings. As the "science of humanity," anthropology can help us understand virtually anything about ourselves—from our political and economic systems, to why we get married, to how we decide to buy a particular bottle of wine.
Here are just a few of the intriguing questions anthropologists study:
- What does it mean if someone raises his eyebrows when he meets you?
- Is there such a thing as progress? Are modern technological nations really happier and better off than "primitive" hunter-gatherer societies?
- What is the cultural significance of gift giving? What are the subtle social and psychological rules we follow when we give a gift, and what obligates us when we receive one?
- How common is cannibalism today? What are the types of cannibalism and the beliefs associated with them?
- In American garbage dumps, what item of trash serves as a clear stratographic layer, distinguishing one-year's trash from the next?
- What's the difference between a matriarchal and a matrilineal society? Which is more common among world cultures?
- Why are Starbucks coffee shops, reality TV shows, and tourist destinations such as Las Vegas and Disneyland so popular with American consumers?
In Peoples and Cultures of the World, Professor Edward F. Fischer reveals the extraordinary power of anthropology—and his subspecialty, cultural anthropology—as a tool to understand the world's varied human societies, including our own. As a science that incorporates many disciplines, including psychology, biology and genetics, politics, economics, and religion, anthropology probes human behavior from nearly every possible perspective.
The three 30-minute lectures we will watch at this session will be:
Lecture 4: Fieldwork and the Anthropological Method
Anthropologists are drawn to exotic locales, and nowhere has held more fascination than the Pacific islands. In 1915, Bronislaw Malinowski traveled to the Trobriand Islands off northern New Guinea, where he documented the Trobrianders' matrilineal kinship system. Margaret Mead, a student of Franz Boas, journeyed to Samoa at the age of 23 to prove theories of cultural relativity.
Lecture 5: Nature, Nurture, and Human Behavior
How much of who we are is determined by biology, and how much by culture? The relatively recent field of sociobiology (or evolutionary psychology) looks for evolutionary origins for social behavior. Biologists traditionally define evolutionary "fitness" in terms of individuals. Sociobiologists shift the focus from individuals to genes.
Lecture 6: Languages, Dialects, and Social Categories
Language gives rise to culture and sets us apart from other animals. Linguists study how people communicate, and this involves not just syntax and grammar, but also body language and facial expressions. Language also tells us a lot about the speaker. Dialects, for example, are important markers of one's social origins.
This "Great Courses" series consists of 24 30-minute lectures, and we will be watching three lectures each week.
Here is a link to the Great Courses website with a complete description of all the upcoming lectures: http://www.thegreatcourses.com/tgc/courses/course_detail.aspx?cid=4617